Dr. Brene Brown once said, “I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: praying and cussing. Sometimes, at the exact same time.” This is the season I find myself right now. Praying and cussing. This is not new for me, I’ve called myself a “salty prayer warrior” many-a times. Jesus knows I’m prone to call current pains BS at the same time I’m asking him to calm the S-storm with a resounding, “Peace be still.” And so far… I’ve not been struck down by lightening or even worse felt the Pentacostal “check in my spirit.” So far, I’ve felt nothing but acceptance and gratitude that I can bring my whole self to Jesus and trust him wholeheartedly— cussy prayers and all.
It took me a long time to get to this place of comfort in my prayer life. You see, I used to think that I needed to come to Jesus with my problems already worked out. I needed to don my white hat and get my fixer swag on and make sure Jesus knew I was coming to him for feedback, not necessarily direction. Praying was more of report of my awesomeness and capability, than an SOS to my savior. I regimented my prayer life with strict scheduling and perfected liturgies and a really kick-ass worship playlist. “Open the eyes of my heart…” Anyone?
If I could say the right words or claim the right scriptures to convey the proper amount righteousness, then maybe… just maybe I might get be rescued; maybe God will see me as one of his and take notice of my need. Just maybe, God might look at me and be impressed.
This “clean yourself up” roadblock is what I hear the most when I talk to my friends about faith. It keeps from praying with authenticity, loving with vulnerability, and living wholeheartedly. I so get this, because of the lie of perfection, we feel the need to fit in before they are let in. It’s an exhausting way of living.
I realized it was time to combat this lie when one evening I stood at my kitchen sink completely angry with God, and I felt stifled by all the sanitary prayers. I’d been praying for us to get back to New Orleans so that we could resume our lives as peacemakers for our city. My husband and I moved to an under-resourced community called “Hollygrove” to, as our favorite urban ministry leaders challenged us, “seek the peace of the city God has called you to. Be a peacemaker for your city.” And sought the peace we did. My husband taught literacy at a failing school, I cooked Sunday dinners in our apartment for people in our neighborhood, we stood with families grieving the loss of their sons to gun violence, and we even had our own apartment hit in a drive by shooting. We were urban peacemakers, and we totally loved it. Then Katrina ravaged our city as we evacuated to Boston where my husband worked on his Masters and I cared for our three children all nine and under. For me, I was never as “on it” and impressive than when we lived in New Orleans.
But one night my husband asked me if we could stay in Boston after he graduated from seminary— in effect saying goodbye to our lives as urban missionaries and for me, reckoning with the thing that qualified me as “enough,” “worthy,” and “acceptable” to God. My good works and my identity were tied up in that calling: be a peacemaker for your city. So one night I stood at my kitchen sink and prayed my first salty, angry prayer.
“I’m so over this, God,” I muttered through gritted teeth while washing plastic dinner plates. I thought of my friends who went back to the city to help clean up and build houses for our neighbors. I felt shame for not womaning-up and returning to the city with my baby strapped to my back and my toddler with a child-size shovel in hand.
“I’m over feeling ‘less than,’” I continued into the suds. “I’m over not knowing what to do with all this passion for peace and justice and no practical ways to live it out. Like. Over. It. Why would you give me a desire to work for peace and then strip me of all opportunities to do it?”
Later that night, my husband came home and told me that he knew what he was giving up for Lent. The forty-day season directly following Ash Wednesday, Lent is a time of letting go of something good in order to lay hold of something that is better. So thanks to conversations with some Dietrich Bonhoeffer-loving seminary friends of his, T. C. had decided to give up Facebook for the next forty days. He wanted to see what would happen if he stepped away from the groups that defined him as a theologian so that he could grab hold of his true identity as a child of God.
Good for him, I thought.
Me? I told him that I was mad at God and I wasn’t 100 percent sure why.
“Do you think that if I fast from something this Lent, Jesus and I will be cool again?” I asked. “Then I won’t be so mad that we lost everything in the storm? I really hate this anger. Jesus can be annoying, but I still miss him.”
“No, I don’t think it works that way, Babes,” T. C. said. “ And when you don’t get the answer you expect, I think you’ll be more hurt because you’ll believe God didn’t come through for you and I don’t want that for you.” He put his hands on my shoulders and met my eyes. “What you need to figure out is what is keeping you from connecting with him from an authentic place and then give that up for Lent. Lent is an invitation for God to take the place of that one thing that keeps us from him.”
He kissed my cheek, pointed out the traces of Cheetos on my forehead, and went to check on the kids.
Sitting down on our couch, I stared at the verse that started it all: Jeremiah 29:7. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Seek. Pray. Prosper. What wonderfully active words, yes. But the potential for failure was staggering. I was most assuredly not at peace.
Looking at the sign, I realized that I couldn’t connect with God from an authentic place because I felt like he sold me a bill of good with this whole peace thing. I was angry at God, because I wanted him to bless my striving for peacemaking perfection. For so long, I believed peace could be attained through what I did and what I accomplished. But in truth, Hurricane Katrina forced me into a season of exile from the thing that had defined me.
I thought about what my husband said. For Lent, he was giving up something that he believed defined him in order to lay hold of his true identity.
Suddenly, the idea came to me. For forty days, I would give up my preconceived notions of peace in order to find something better. For forty days, I would study the concept of peace in the Bible. I would read the Gospels to find out what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). I would read what theologians had to say about peace and listen to sermons by ministers I trusted.
So I prayed a dangerous prayer that night.
“Jesus!” I said. “I have no idea what this Scripture means for me as a peacemaker anymore. Seeking the peace of my city must mean more than I thought it did. Obviously, I’ve got this all wrong. So come on . . . show me the things that make for peace.”
And forty days later, I started calling myself a Shalom Sista and praying salty, angry, sometimes cuss-word filled prayers.
This is an excerpt from Osheta Moore’s new book, Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, which will be releasing October 3rd. Order yours at Amazon today!